GPL Licensed fonts

Dan Gayle's picture

I was just flipping through Slashdot, and I came upon an interesting article about the flaws of using a free typeface under the GNU Public License, or GPL. It appears that embedding one of those typefaces into any document makes it subject to the GPL.

Some of the comments were particularly interesting such as this one:

by dr.badass (25287) on Sunday April 17, @11:04PM (#12266364)
I have to agree, the largest failing of Linux (and Java for that matter) is a good set of fonts. Why not make a bunch of truely Public Domain fonts so everyone can use them?

There are plenty of public domain faces out on the web, but they're mostly of the novelty variety, and aren't really terribly relevant. Excepting them, here is why this hasn't happened yet:

1) Good type design is pretty hard.
2) Good type design for all-purpose screen fonts is really hard.
3) Tools are either expensive or crap.
4) Good type designers cost money.
5) There just isn't much incentive.
6) Open source community attitude toward design issues generally sucks.

It's a good idea, but the people to convince are professional type designers and foundries. Bitstream Vera is a (the only?) example I can think of like this, though it's merely under "generous copyright".

raph's picture

Most GPL fonts are actually released under a modified GPL that has a specific "embedding exception." Sorry not to have a link for this. There's a great deal of misinformation and underinformed speculation out there, so I'd take just about everything you hear with a grain of salt.

glyphobet's picture

Fonts occupy a strange place between software and graphics; Misunderstanding about how they actually work is rampant. I offered a number of fonts that I'd designed (and packaged) to Debian five or six years ago -- I even offered to license them under the GPL, unmodified. The only thing that came of it was a heated discussion among the Debian developers over whether TTF or PFB files counted as source code or binary.

That said, the situation on Xorg has gotten much better lately, with the excellent rasterizing by Pango/XFT/Cairo (not sure exactly which one does the heavy lifting) under GTK. In my opinion, fonts render better on Xorg than in OSX or Windows. And a number of international fonts, in addition to the Bitstream Vera family, are included by default, at least under Debian and Ubuntu.

The FontForge home page lists a number of open-source font development projects:

Dan Gayle's picture

I kinda understood the modified GPL stuff, but it was the variety of comments and the knowledge/lack of knowledge of the various people that was the most interesting. The comment that I posted above was very insightful, almost to the point that it might have been made by a type designer himself.

Dan Gayle's picture

XORG also has Adobe Utopia and Bitstream Charter, which is absolutely amazing to me. Add those to Bitstream Vera, and you almost have all you need to publish. I haven't heard of Pango before. I'm not much of a command line commando to put anything to use, but it's interesting to know what's going on.

glyphobet's picture

You don't need to do anything to "use" Pango -- if you're using Gnome or GTK applications, Pango is being used behind the scenes (so to speak) to draw the text.

typequake's picture

URW Garamond 8
URW Classico (Optima)

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